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Dreaming of a white Christmas? It’s a lock in the Northland

December temperatures here haven't warmed enough to reduce chances for snow on the ground.

map showing areas of snowfall in the United States
Probability of a white Christmas based on data from 1991 to 2020.
Contributed / NOAA
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DULUTH — With several inches already on the ground, more forecast for next week and no major melting expected, it’s almost certain much of northern Minnesota and northern Wisconsin will have a white Christmas — officially determined by having an inch or more of snow on the ground on Dec. 25.

But it’s not just this year. Northern Minnesota is among just a few regions in the contiguous U.S. where a white Christmas is almost guaranteed — more than 90% of the time — according to data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Much of northern Minnesota had a white Christmas nearly 100% of the years over the last 30-year climate period used to determine “normal” levels for temperatures and snowfall. That period ran from 1991 to 2020 and the data comes from more than 15,000 official weather reporting stations nationwide.

In addition to northern Minnesota, other nearly guaranteed white Christmases are in parts of northern Wisconsin; Michigan's Upper Peninsula; part of northern North Dakota; northern Maine; Upstate New York; the Allegheny Mountains of Pennsylvania and West Virginia; most of Idaho; the Rocky Mountains; the Sierra Nevada Mountains; and of course, most of Alaska.

You don't have to go far to see those odds drop fast, though. Parts of southern Wisconsin and Iowa have white Christmases fewer than half the years.

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In recent decades, since records have been kept at the airport, Duluth has had a "brown" Christmas only in 1979, when just a trace was reported on the ground, and in 2006, when zero snow depth was reported, according to Lee Britt, National Weather Service meteorologist in Duluth.

The NOAA data shows Duluth at a 92% chance of a white Christmas while Gunflint Lake is at 98%, Littlefork at 97%, Hurley, Wisconsin, at 96% and Edmore, North Dakota, at 94%. Superior, Wisconsin, closer to the relatively warmer waters of Lake Superior, drops to just a 72% chance.

In the shorter term, Duluth had more than 3 inches on the ground on Wednesday, International Falls had 6 inches and parts of Cook County still had around a foot. A little of that might melt over the weekend with daily high temperatures rising just above freezing. But, snow lovers take heart, a major winter weather system is expected to hit the Upper Midwest next week, potentially bringing lots of snow to some areas.

Officials noted that, while average temperatures have warmed over most of the country in recent decades, it hasn’t been enough to affect white Christmases in the far northern climates. But, compared to the 30-year normal period from 1981-2010, many areas of middle U.S. states have seen their chances of a white Christmas go down.

Of course, having snow on the ground every December isn't just good for bolstering holiday spirits. It's also critical for the region's ski and snowmobile industries.

You can find an interactive map to check our your town's chances for a white Christmas at climate.gov .

Related Topics: WEATHERDULUTHCHRISTMAS
John Myers reports on the outdoors, natural resources and the environment for the Duluth News Tribune. You can reach him at jmyers@duluthnews.com.
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